Elena Mendez-Escobar, MBA’15, initially wanted to be a scientist, and earned a PhD in theoretical physics at the University of Edinburgh. But when it came time to enter academia, she had a change of heart.
Instead, Elena returned to her hometown of Madrid, and started working for McKinsey. After two years, she transferred to the Boston office to join her husband, who also holds a PhD in physics and was beginning his post-doctorate research at MIT. After another year at McKinsey and rising to a senior business analyst, Elena decided to pursue an MBA at the MIT Sloan School of Management. She says that her MBA has made an immediate difference in her career.
The Impact of an MBA in Consulting
When exploring the options for a post-physics career, she was drawn to consulting because “it had a lot of the things I liked about science: problem solving and understanding how things work. It also offered an opportunity to have short term impact in a very dynamic environment.”
When Elena first joined McKinsey, the analytical aspects came naturally to her. It was at business school that she had the opportunity to take on new challenges in a low-risk environment.
One of the things Elena enjoyed most about her MBA experience was acquiring the “soft skills that are essential for the business world, but are so hard to learn in the classroom,” she says. “I had two years of experimenting; organizing a conference, teaching a class, and working in teams under a lot of different conditions. The skills I learned there made me orders of magnitude better as a professional and as a consultant.”
Now back at McKinsey as an associate, Elena sees consulting as studying the physics of the real world, but with faster results than basic science. She cites the operations research of Professor Zeynep Ton at MIT Sloan as particularly illuminating.
“The difference between a good manager and a bad manager can improve the lives of hundreds of people in ways that weren’t obvious to me before I started business school,” she explains. “That’s what brought me to consulting, the potential to improve the job conditions and lives of so many people.”
Understanding Unconscious Biases
While at MIT Sloan, Elena became interested in studying unconscious biases and the effect they have on diversity in the workplace. As a member of the Sloan Women in Management (SWIM) club, she thought that the topic could be good material for a seminar. However, the idea generated so much interest that it became the theme for SWIM’s annual conference.
Elena and Maria Troein, MBA’15, co-directed the conference and developed a yearlong initiative called Breaking the Mold, which featured 10 different on-campus events and workshops. Nearly 400 people participated in at least one of the events, and the conference completely sold out.
Elena described the response on campus as “the most surprising and amazing outcome. I wasn’t expecting there to be so much appetite for it. We thought that we would have a small team, but we ended up with 50 people planning the conference.”
After the conference, Elena had the opportunity to teach the course “Gender, Power, Leadership, and the Workplace” for the Women’s and Gender Studies Department at MIT. It was the perfect outlet to use the research she had gathered while planning the Breaking the Mold conference, and she drew upon her teaching experience as a PhD candidate. The class was highly interactive, with guest speakers and panels. “We all learned a lot from one another,” she says.
Now that she’s back in the workplace, Elena plans to keep working on the issue. “Biases affect everyone, and making sure that they’re not a barrier for true meritocracy is something we all stand to benefit from.”
Paying it Forward
Shortly before starting MIT Sloan, Elena gave birth to her second child. She juggled her coursework, activities, and commitments to the MBA program, all while raising her two sons with her husband. Elena frequently found herself in conversations with other fellow students reflecting upon the challenges of dual career households while starting families.
“We all looked for examples that proved it was possible, and that would give us a glimpse of what our lives could look like 10 to 20 years down the line if we went down that path,” Elena says.
Mentoring is something that Elena plans on paying forward as she advances in her own career. She frequently takes the time to speak to people who want to transition from science into consulting or to people with children who are interested in pursuing an MBA.
“Now that I’ve started to get more seniority and responsibility, I make sure to give opportunities to the people around me as best I can,” she says.
Eleanora Buckbee is an Admissions Assistant at the MIT Sloan School of Management.